King Lear Act 1 Analysis

Main events of the act 1:

  • King Lear wants to retire and share his kingdom between three daughters;
  • When asked about how much they love their father, two daughters, Goneril and Regan pay him lots of fake compliments;
  • His youngest daughter, Cordelia, doesn't want to demonstrate her feelings through this staged act;
  • Lear is outraged and disowns his used-to-be favorite daughter, splitting the kingdom between Regan and Goneril;
  • A nobleman and Lear's advisor Kent protests such decision and gets kicked out from the country;
  • Goneril and Regan are afraid that sooner or later Lear will want to reclaim his power and land and want to strip him of any authority he has left;
  • Another nobleman, Earl Gloucester, is telling everybody that he has an illegitimate son Edmund who is a bastard;
  • Edmund is planning an intrigue to get rid of Edgar, the lawful son of Gloucester and become the heir to Earl Gloucester;
  • Lear spends some time at Goneril castle, bringing with him his 100 knights and servants;
  • Goneril tells her servants not to serve Lear and his knights and eventually decides that they are too noisy and problematic for her - she demanded her father to cut his staff in half;
  • King Lear can't stand such a derogation and leaves Goneril's castle with all his 100 knights to go stay with his other daughter, Regan;


Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

Scene 4

Scene 5


Act 1 Scene 1

People present in the scene:

  • Kent and Gloucester – noblemen;
  • Edmund – illegitimate son of Gloucester;
  • King Lear – the 80-year-old ruler of Britain;
  • Dukes of Cornwall and Albany – husbands of 2 Lear's daughters;
  • Goneril – the elder daughter of King Lear;
  • Regan – daughter of King Lear;
  • Cordelia – the youngest daughter of King Lear;
  • King of France - the nobleman who wants to marry Cordelia;
  • Lord of Burgundy - another nobleman who wants to marry Cordelia;
  • Attendants of the royal court.


Place and time of the scene: Palace of King Lear, the coronation hall.

Main events of the scene:

  • King Lear wants to retire and divide his kingdom between his three daughters;
  • Two lords from France and Burgundy want to marry Cordelia, Lear's youngest daughter;
  • King Lear asks his daughters to tell him how much they love him, Goneril and Regan try to impress their father with eloquent words;
  • Cordelia doesn't want to turn her feelings into performance and stays silent. For this, the King dishonors her and shared her heritage between her two sisters;
  • The Duke of Burgundy no longer wants to marry dishonored Cordelia;
  • The King of France, impressed with the strong character and sincerity, makes Cordelia his wife.


Short Summary:

Kent and Gloucester discuss who will receive a bigger share of King Lear's property - it seems that both Duke of Albany and Duke of Cornwall have equal chances. Gloucester comes in and presents Edmund as his unlawful child. Gloucester also informs that he has an older son with his lawful wife.

King Lear enters and informs his attendants that he is to let his three daughters run his kingdom. He is tired and doesn't want to bear the responsibility of governing a country anymore. He wants to make this procedure public.

The two noblemen of France and Burgundy are visiting Britain wanting to marry Lear's youngest daughter. The King asks his daughters to tell how much they love him. He says that the one who can express her love the best will receive the biggest share of the kingdom.

First, Goneril speaks. She says that she loves her father more than freedom or air. At the same time, she admits to herself that she only says it because it's a must for her. Regan, the second daughter, tries to overperform her sister with her lavish vocabulary. She says that no joy in the world is better than her love for her father. The King is flattered and gives his daughters a third of the country land each.

Then comes Cordelia's turn. Cordelia is shy and doesn't like the paphos of her sisters' performance. She says that she loves her father, but can't "put her heart in her mouth". She also hints that her sisters are lying saying that Lear is the only thing they love, because they are married, which means that they gave a part of their love to their husbands. King Lear didn't like such an answer and banned Cordelia from receiving any kind of heritage. He split her share between his other two daughters, gave them all the income and power and only kept the title.

Kent, the loyal earl who serves Lear, tries to reason with Lear, saying that love is transferred not only with words. He wants to save Lear's crown by telling that his youngest daughter loves him probably even more than the other two. But King Lear is outraged and gives Kent 5 days to leave the country.

Then the King of France and Duke of Burgundy enter. King Lear informs them that Cordelia has been dishonored and stripped of any title or possessions. The Duke of Burgundy withdraws his intention to marry Cordelia, which doesn't upset her much. The King of France is fascinated with her character and wants to make her Queen of France. King Lear sends his daughter to France without blessings.

When everybody leaves, Cordelia says her goodbyes to her sisters. She asks them to take good care of her father but warns that time will reveal their hidden rotten souls. When Cordelia leaves with her new husband, Goneril and Regan share their impressions. The king always loved his younger daughter the most, yet he threw her out of the kingdom so quickly. The same could happen to them. They are afraid that due to his old and fickle character, he is dangerous and should not keep the authority.


Act 1 Scene 2

People present in the scene:

  • Edmund – illegitimate son of Gloucester;
  • Gloucester – loyal noblemen of King Lear;
  • Edgar – lawful son and heir of Gloucester.


Place of the scene: Earl Gloucester castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • Edmund fakes a letter where Edgar supposedly plans to murder his father Gloucester;
  • Edmund tells Edgar that Gloucester is mad at him and advises him to avoid his father and always have weapons on him;
  • Gloucester believes the fake letter planted by Edmund, they agree to set up a situation where Edgar will reveal his real intentions.


Short Summary:

Edmund despises his stepbrother Edgar because he is the rightful son and heir of their father. Edmund is sick and tired of being called illegitimate and thinks that he is actually the same or even better than his stepbrother. He devises a plan to dishonor Edgar.

When Gloucester enters, all wired up with the drama that just happened in the Lear castle, he sees Edmund holding a letter. Edmund pretends that he is trying to hide the letter spiking an even greater interest from Gloucester to read it.

In the letter, Edgar is supposedly inducing Edmund to murder Gloucester and use his wealth as they wish. Gloucester recognizes the handwriting of his elder son. Gloucester is outraged but Edmund tells him to wait and check whether Edgar really meant what he wrote or maybe he was just testing Edmund's reaction. Gloucester discusses the bad influence of eclipses and leaves.

Edmund finds Edgar and tells him about a sad prediction and how such predictions really affect people's lives. Then he tells Edgar that Gloucester is very angry at him and it's better if he avoids his father for some time. Edgar thinks that somebody has told bad things about him. Edmund sends Edgar to his room where he promises to let the brother hear exactly what his father thinks about him. Edgar is also advised to leave the room armed.


Act 1 Scene 3

People present in the scene:

  • Goneril – the elder daughter of King Lear;
  • Oswald – steward of Goneril.


Place of the scene: Duke of Albany (husband of Goneril) castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • After giving up his land, King Lear stays with his daughter Goneril;
  • Goneril doesn't like Lear's bossy behavior;
  • Goneril instructs all servants to be rude with Lear and his knights, she is trying to provoke a fight.


Short Summary:

The King of Lear is causing trouble in the house of his elder daughter. He has given up his power but kept exercising his authority in Goneril's house. He struck one servant just because he was impolite to his fool. Goneril is dissatisfied, she doesn't want to talk to him and advises her servant not to be nice to King Lear.

Goneril hopes that King Lear will not like staying at her castle and will leave to stay with her sister, Regan (they agreed in Act 1 that the King would live a month with Goneril and a month with Regan).

Oswald is instructed to tell all the servants in the castle to treat King Lear and his servants with caution and remain cold towards them.


Act 1 Scene 4

People present in the scene:

  • Kent – outcasted noblemen dressed as a servant;
  • King Lear – King of Britain who handed over his powers and possessions to his daughters;
  • Knights, servants and a fool of Lear;
  • Oswald – servant of Goneril;
  • Goneril – the elder daughter of King Lear;
  • Duke of Albany - husband of Goneril.


Place of the scene: A hall in the castle of the Duke of Albany.

Main events of the scene:

  • Lear takes in Kent to be his servant, without recognizing him;
  • Oswald disobeys Lear and is beaten by Lear and Kent;
  • Lear's knights notice that they are not treated as well as they are used to;
  • Goneril tells Lear to cut his staff in half because she doesn't like the way they behave;
  • Lear is outraged and leaves to stay with his other daughter;
  • Goneril sends a letter to her sister explaining the situation;
  • Goneril's husband, Albany, doesn't like her decisions.


Short Summary:

Kent has changed his voice and attire and is determined to enter service with Lear. His simple words and determination please the King and he lets Kent serve him (on condition that the King still likes him after lunch).

The King is calling for lunch. Oswald enters but ignores Lear's questions and leaves the room without telling him where his daughter is. The knight goes to get Oswald but Oswald refuses to come back to the room. The knight notices that servants and even Goneril and her husband no longer treat Lear with the same respect as they used to.

When Oswald enters the room King Lear insults him with words and punches. Oswald resists. Kent comes to assist Lear and throws Oswald on the ground. The fool enters and he mocks Lear's decision to divide his kingdom between Goneril and Regan, he says that Lear has initiated himself his own demise. Then the fool gives some rhetoric advice to Lear.

Goneril enters looking dissatisfied. She doesn't like the way Lear's knights and servants behave and orders for them to leave the castle. Lear knows that he only has his closest servants that know the protocol and always behave properly.

Lear realizes that he is no longer the King he used to be. He is just a shadow of what he used to be. He tells Goneril that he regrets his decision to give her his wealth and leaves to stay with this other daughter, Regan. He outcasts Goneril as an unworthy child and wishes that she herself never has children.

Goneril sends Oswald to deliver a letter to her sister warning her that father's servants and knights might present danger. Goneril's husband, Albany, doesn't agree with his wife but doesn't resist her either.


Act 1 Scene 5

People present in the scene:

  • King Lear – on his way to seek better luck with second daughter;
  • Kent – dressed as servant to King Lear;
  • Fool of King Lear.


Place of the scene: A court in front of the Duke of Albany castle.

Main events of the scene:

  • Lear sends a letter to his daughter Regan;
  • The fool makes jokes that Regan will also disappoint her father;
  • Lear and his attendants leave for Regan's castle.


Short Summary:

Lear sends Kent to deliver a letter to Regan to inform her of what happened and that he is coming.

The fool keeps making jokes about Lear's irrational decision to split his kingdom between the two daughters. He is sarcastic that the second daughter will behave just like her sister. Lear is sorry about his decision and even thinking to take everything back from Goneril because of her ungratefulness.

The horses are ready and King Lear together with his servants and knights leaves for the castle of Regan.

Act 1: Analysis and Interpretation

King Lear, the play written by William Shakespeare in 1608 is settled around difficult family relations. Of course, Shakespeare couldn't avoid mentioning the social and political problems of those times. The events of the play are supposed to happen in the 11th century.

King Lear is the monarch who was lucky enough to live to his biological death - the luxury that didn't happen often to the royals who were often killed in wars, beheaded in the coup or murdered by their closes wanting to take their positions. In this play, King Lear survived the political turbulence only to run into the family one. The internal evolution of the king is portrayed with great power and vividness.

So Lear is tired of the responsibility and tension, he wants to retire. However, he has only three daughters. Here comes another hint to social standards of those times - only boys were able to inherit the throne. Riots and killings over lands were a common thing at that time. That's why King Lear begins the play saying "We have this hour a constant will to publish our daughters' several dowers, that future strife may be prevented now."

So in order to avoid any kinds of complications, the king decided to divide his land publicly among his three daughters. He was smart in wanting to do it publicly and ahead of time. But he wasn't smart of the way he presented it. By asking his daughter to demonstrate their love, Lear made them swear that black and white. Because true love, especially if we talk about paternal feelings, can't be depicted in words. It is something cultivated in actions and everyday interaction.

But Lear wanted to get his moment of fame and he got it - two of his daughters used their best-known words to lie about their feelings for him. At the same time, the daughter who is truly loyal to Lear doesn't play this game and gets dishonored. Lear always used to love Cordelia and she was his dearest daughter, the one closest to him in all aspect of his life. But people often forget the past when present emotions are boiling. In the heat of the moment, the king put his emotions over his reason and disowned his daughter. He will pay a great price for this decision later.

Act one also has a subplot - the family of Gloucester and his two sons. This family has a similar situation (a child who is loyal but shy and a child who wants to harm his father and is vocal about his supposed "loyalty"). Edmund's situation is another example of social custom of that time - he was born outside of marriage and thus he doesn't have any rights or recognition from his father. His rebellion is not just a rebellion to secure the wealth of his father - he wants to have a name for himself. Gloucester's family will play an important role in the development of further events.

Family values are universal values that were always cherished by people. Shakespeare also showed the traditionalism and superstitious nature of people of the 11th century in his play. Gloucester, for example, blames all the irrational decisions and intrigues he sees around them on moon cycles. He says: "These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us: though the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by the sequent effects".

While some people hurry to make irrational and unworthy decisions, there are characters in the play that deliver words of wisdom and teach the audience a good taste of sarcasm. While the whole hassle around Lear is based on his 100 knights, on the stage Lear is mostly accompanied by his newly-acquired servant (Kent dressed as a servant) and his fool. The fool is one of the wisest and smartest characters in the play. Since Cordelia doesn't get a lot of action and Kent's speeches are usually short and concise, the audience truly enjoyed the fool's monologues. For example: "But I can tell why a snail has a house… to put his head in; not to give it away to his daughters, and leave his horns without a case".

Act one finishes with the audience having more negative feelings towards Lear that positive ones. He is a spoiled man who needs attention and reassurance from his daughters to hear that they love him. He loves to be served and wants to be treated like a king (after all he is a king). But over the next acts the audience will come to understand him and even feel sorry for him, maybe even feeling outraged about the situation in which Lear was placed with due to the cunning plan of his two daughters.